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April 1, 2024

Pickleball facility growth in CT shows no signs of slowing

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Players competing at a Dill Dinkers pickleball facility in Finksburg, Maryland.

The growing popularity of pickleball continues to spur private investment in new indoor and outdoor recreational facilities across Connecticut.

The latest projects to sprout up are in Simsbury and Cromwell, but plenty of other pickleball facilities are in the development pipeline.

Pickleball facility operators said they are motivated by the growing popularity of the sport and demand for indoor and outdoor court space. Their business models are similar to gyms and other health clubs — they largely rely on memberships as a key revenue source.

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball — a cross between pingpong, badminton and tennis — in 2023 was the fastest-growing sport in the United States for a third year in a row.

Here’s a look at several new pickleball facilities planned for the region.

A local group of sports enthusiasts is looking to bring a new pickleball franchise to Connecticut, eyeing 10 locations throughout the state, starting with courts in Simsbury.

Max Johnson is managing director and minority owner of The Pickleball Brothers, a local affiliate of Maryland-based Dill Dinkers Pickleball. He’s partnered with Scott Johnson, Zach Larichiuta and Wayne Johnson, all of Connecticut.

The group bought the Dill Dinkers franchise rights in Connecticut, coastal South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia, Johnson said, and recently signed a 10-year lease for 23,900 square feet at a former HomeGoods store location in the Simsbury Commons plaza, at 500-530 Bushy Hill Road. They plan to open a Dill Dinkers facility with seven courts — six champion-sized courts and one of standard size.

Johnson said he is hoping for a late summer grand opening in Simsbury, pending local land use approval, renovations by the landlord and converting the retail space into courts.

The group plans to open 10 Dill Dinkers locations in each state.

Johnson said the group is actively seeking other ideal locations in Connecticut, including in retail, warehouse or industrial sites.

Some new pickleball facilities are co-located with other amenities like food courts, common work areas, or even breweries, bars and dedicated social areas.

The Dill Dinkers brand is a more simple business model with just courts, “as a place to play, be social, get some exercise and have fun,” Johnson said. “We have no bar or restaurant, just come and play.”

The Dill Dinkers site in Simsbury will be near other retail and commercial establishments in the Simsbury Commons plaza like restaurants, a movie theater and go-karts. The plaza owner, Johnson said, was enthusiastic about the new pickleball site, looking to make the Commons into a regional destination for recreational activity, dining out and entertainment.

The group is investing “under $1 million” to turn the former home-furnishings store site into a pickleball facility, Johnson said.

Membership fees vary by location. For example, an individual membership at Dill Dinkers’ Finksburg, Maryland facility is $40 monthly or $400 annually, while a couple’s membership costs $75 monthly or $750 annually, according to the company’s website.

Torza’s Golf wants to replace its “putt-putt” with pickleball.

Torza's Golf in Cromwell is seeking approval to replace its miniature golf course and batting cages with pickleball courts.

The facility — at 150 Sebethe Drive in Cromwell, a staple in town for three decades — has featured a driving range, batting cages and miniature golf course.

Owner Jodi Lynn Torza Forali has, filed an application for a site plan modification seeking to remove the batting cages and mini golf, and replace them with pickleball courts and more parking.

Forali, who bought the facility from her father three years ago, said the proposed changes are a sign of the times.

“The batting cages are very, very old and would have to be replaced, and I never made much money on them,” she said. “Same with the miniature golf. I never really made a lot of profit on that either.”

The interest in pickleball, however, continues to expand.

Forali said she already has created two courts on the property, but hopes to eventually have four.

“Where the mini golf is, I’m planning to put in a court,” she said. She has already begun some preliminary work removing the miniature golf course.

Taking out the miniature golf course also will allow her to add parking.

While the main feature of the facility is its 25 golf driving-range bays that offer shot-tracking, including 19 bays that are covered and heated, the site also offers a grass hitting area for nonmembers, which Forali wants to expand.

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